By REID TUCKER
The three new members of the Paxton Town Council jumped into the thick of city business as discussion of revisions to proposed water and sewer ordinances sparked debate from all sides.
The initial purpose of the discussion at the Nov. 16 meeting was a final review of the new ordinances before they went up for their required two-month advertisement, an action that was eventually approved by unanimous vote. However, that determination was long in coming as the Council quickly became divided over the effects changes to the water and sewer rate schemes would have on the city’s taxpayers.
The main changes the ordinances bring about are 5-percent hikes across the board to both water and sewer base rates and as well as penalty increases when customers are late paying their bills. This latter change will set penalties at 15 percent of the customer’s utility bill rather than the 10 percent currently charged, which the Council agreed will offset the rise in postage costs when mailing reminder notices. While the Council concurred on the necessity for those two changes, the proposed ordinance’s final change, one dealing with an increase in the cost of replacing a damaged and or destroyed water meter, is what ultimately divided opinions.
Councilman Bobby Kemp argued that individual citizens should not be held responsible for the cost of replacing a meter head if it was installed improperly by city workers and should therefore not have to come before the Council at all. However, City Attorney Lori Bytell explained that a provision had been made within the proposed ordinance allowing customers to petition the Council in the event that a water meter was damaged, with each instance examined on a case-by-case basis (the same way the city already does with one-time water bill waivers).
Bytell said this provision simultaneously ensured due process and gave the Council the final determination as to whether the customer or the city should be held liable for the $106 it costs to replace a damaged meter. Furthermore, as it stands now, the city is responsible for replacing all damaged or destroyed meters, regardless whether or not the units were damaged through customer negligence. The end result is that Paxton has been losing money on each transaction by not charging what it costs to replace the meters.
“I can’t think of a fairer way to do it,” Bytell said. “We’re proving a service and that service should cover its expenses. We’re not trying to break the backs of our citizens but we need them to pay what it costs us to do [those services]. We can’t go broke doing our jobs.”
After nearly a half-hour’s discussion and despite disagreements over the proposed ordinance’s implementation, the Council voted unanimously to advertise the ordinance for the requisite two months before it can be put to the vote for final adoption.
The Council jumped from one big issue to even more divisive ones, this time two dealing with the city’s employees. The Council unequivocally agreed to give employees a Christmas “one-time pay raise” of $200, the same amount they were given last year, but vehement disagreement broke out over annual employee evaluations, which are usually carried out in concert with the beginning of the new fiscal year. Councilman Tommy Mathis said it was unfair for city employees to have their evaluations written by the three new Council members since they had not yet had sufficient time to observe city personnel at work.
In light of the fact that city water crews in particular received a 3-percent cost of living pay raise last year (but have not received a performance-based raise in two years), Mayor Hayward Thomas suggested that those employees be given one this year also. Kemp disagreed on the grounds that many of the individuals comprising Paxton’s tax base are on seniors on fixed income who may not be able to afford to give city workers a salary increase, much less “to support their households.”
“There are some people in Paxton who are absolutely not doing well,” Kemp said. “I’m here to represent all the people of Paxton.”
As the discussion heated up with little sign of consensus being reached, Bytell suggested the issue be tabled until after the first of the year so as to ensure all viewpoints before coming to a decision. She said employee performance evaluations and performance pay raises often coincide for convenience’s sake but can actually be given at any time prior to May of the coming year. The motion made and seconded, the Council agreed to revisit the issue in January.
Having temporarily abated those items of contention, the Council hurried through the remainder of the agenda, which included waiving rental fees of Paxton’s Agricultural Center on Dec. 11 for a fundraiser for a paralyzed woman in the community. The Council also announced that it will begin reviewing applications for the recently open housekeeper position with the ultimate goal of narrowing down the choices to the three best candidates before a final decision is made….
Read the full story in the Nov. 25, 2010 edition of the Herald Breeze.
By REID TUCKER